More than the money

29th May 2009 at 01:00
Business managers are dedicated to the smooth financial running of the school, but they need leadership skills too

Managing a budget effectively in the current economic climate is crucial, and schools are no different.

The numbers of school business managers (SBMs) are growing. They have specialist training that allows them to manage the financial aspects of running a school.

With some large primary and secondary schools commanding budgets comparable to a medium-sized business, it's maybe unsurprising that many people from banking are moving into schools.

Money is important, but it is not an SBM's only task. Like the teaching staff, SBMs make a direct contribution to improving children's life chances through their job, and they are transforming the way schools operate. Their job description covers everything from effective management of human resources, facilities and budgets, to health and safety and major projects.

School finances might include looking after new ICT systems, ordering textbooks, developing provisions for school lunches and liaising with contractors for building projects.

The current recession means SBMs have a responsibility to make sure that they are getting the best out of the budget. While education is likely to remain a key government priority, they have to work hard to ensure that budgets are well managed.

I recently joined Litcham High School as the school's SBM, with more than 20 years' experience at the Nationwide Building Society. At the moment, I am working with the local authority on a project to create a Pounds 350,000 sports facility at the school.

My main role in administering the budget is to ensure that the curriculum is delivered for the benefit of every pupil. This can be tricky, given that children are savvy when it comes to technology and expect the latest equipment. It is also about managing different expectations, from the governors, the headteacher, staff, children and parents.

It's essential to have a degree of foresight. I'm not just thinking about tomorrow, but how effective my decisions will be in 12 to 18 months' time and beyond. So, for example, if my school invests in an upgraded IT system now, will it be out of date next year?

A good relationship with the head is essential. Either that, or the SBM needs to sit on the school's leadership team. They need to be aware of where the head wants to take the school strategically. Essentially, they need to act as a critical friend, offering different perspectives on decision making and constantly liaising with the governors and the teaching staff.

Fundamentally though, managing a budget is about strong leadership. Tough decisions need to be made, so while a budget should have some flexibility, it's imperative that an SBM has a clear idea of exactly what can be done. It is no good promising the earth today, and having to tighten your belt tomorrow.

In the end, school business management is about much more than managing a budget or numbers on a spreadsheet, it's about making a direct contribution to the education and future opportunities of all the children and young people in the school.

David Allen is school business manager at Litcham High School, Norfolk. Visit www.ncsl. for details of school management courses Next week: Mentoring.

Points to remember

- Look for what will bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of students.

- Effectiveness is everything. Ensure every penny that the school spends is done so as effectively as possible.

- Work closely with the head and other leaders.

- See yourself as a critical friend. Teaching colleagues may approach decisions from a different point of view.

- Think long-term. Are large investments lasting investments?

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